National News

PODCAST: Sell in May?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 07:44

We'll start by confronting the notion of "Sell in May, then go away." There is a saying among investors this time of year, that as we get closer to summer vacation, it's time to take money out of the stock market. To find out more, we consult the often bearish Julie Niemann, the analyst at Smith Moore and company in St. Louis.

Google is rolling out same-day delivery for online retail customers in West L.A. and Manhattan — offering products from a variety of retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens and L'Occitane. Google has already been piloting the service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Amazon has just launched same-day delivery in parts of Los Angeles as well, along with San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix. And the two giants aren't alone. Wal-Mart, eBay, Nordstrom and other retailers are also in the ring. But, same-day delivery is expensive and complicated.

What are the odds of an entry-level gambler getting some coaching and winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas? Not great, as you may imagine. Grantland writer Colson Whitehead got $10,000 from his employer to give it a try.

The Lost Village In New York City

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 07:11

Razed to make way for Central Park, Seneca Village was a vibrant neighborhood in 19th century Manhattan. Now researchers are looking for descendants.

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Bayer Will Buy Merck Consumer Unit For $14.2 Billion

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 07:04

German drug company Bayer makes a deal with U.S.-based Merck & Co. The purchase includes brands such as Claritin, Coppertone and Dr. Scholl's.

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Medicare Pays For Alzheimer's Screening, But Do You Want To Know?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 06:24

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there's not enough evidence to know if routine testing for cognitive impairment in older people helps or hurts. So patients have to decide on their own.

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Kidnappers In Nigeria Wore Uniforms, Escaped Girl Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 05:44

She says the gunmen claimed to be soldiers who had come to help girls abducted last month. It wasn't until the men stole food and set fire to a school that the girls were certain they were in trouble.

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Turning a rookie poker chump into a champ

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 04:41

What are the odds of an entry-level gambler getting some coaching and winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas?

Not great, as you may imagine.  Grantland writer Colson Whitehead got $10,000 from his employer to give it a try.

He spoke with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio about the results of his undertaking, which are chronicled in his book, "The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death."

This Could Be The Year Iowa Sends Its First Woman To Congress

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 04:39

Iowa and Mississippi share a dubious distinction: They're the only two states that have never sent a woman to Congress or elected one as governor.

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New Report Finds Climate Change Already Having Broad Impact

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 04:30

A report overseen by the government finds climate change is causing more frequent heat waves, floods and droughts. The change, the study concludes, is also disrupting key parts of the economy.

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5 Things To Watch In Tuesday's Primaries

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 04:04

Primaries in Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio serve as the kickoff for an intense two-month stretch of elections. Did we mention former American Idol star Clay Aiken is on the ballot?

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Book News: Gay Bookstore Said To Be The Nation's Oldest Is Closing

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 03:51

Also: Edwidge Danticat on the real price of sugar; the winners of the O. Henry Prize.

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U-2 Spy Plane Disrupted Hundreds Of Flights, FAA Acknowledges

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 03:49

After the plane's altitude was misinterpreted, efforts to route airliners around it over California created havoc. The U-2 was reportedly flying at 60,000 feet, but computers thought it was far lower.

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Ukraine Reports Dozens Killed In Slovyansk Fighting

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 03:09

Ukraine says its military has killed 30 pro-Russian separatists as government forces try to retake eastern cities near the border with Russia. At least four Ukrainian soldiers have died.

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Google, Amazon compete on same-day delivery

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 02:47

Google is rolling out same-day delivery for online retail customers in West L.A. and Manhattan — offering products from a variety of retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens and L'Occitane. Google has already been piloting the service in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Amazon has just launched same-day delivery in parts of Los Angeles as well, along with San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix. And the two giants aren't alone. Wal-Mart, eBay, Nordstrom and other retailers are also in the ring.

But, same-day delivery is expensive and complicated. Most people shop online after work, meaning the vendor has a very short window to deliver that must-have bottle of champagne or designer scarf — possibly through rush-hour traffic.

What companies need to make it work, says management consultant Andrew Schmahl at Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company, a division of PricewaterhouseCoopers), is a densely-populated area full of well-heeled shoppers.

"People willing to pay more than free for a delivery," he says.

Which most consumers are not.

In a survey conducted by Schmahl, only 10 percent of consumers were willing to pay $10 or more for same-day delivery. And many don't even want same-day delivery at the end of the day — when they are having dinner, putting kids to bed, or possibly won't hear the delivery, leaving their package to sit on the front porch all night.

Amazon and Google are first testing the same-day delivery market in upscale neighborhoods in places like Manhattan, West Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Schmahl thinks Google might be plunging in to gather more data on online shoppers. For Amazon, he says, it's an attack on brick-and-mortar stores where you can get what you want, same-day.

"Instant gratification takes too long for most people," says Patty Edwards, managing director of investments at US Bank Wealth Management. "We don't want to have to wait, we want to have it right now. And yet we're too lazy to get it ourselves."

Edwards predicts that in time, same-day delivery will catch on in many urban and suburban areas around the country.

Where to get the best deal in the same-day melee 

by Tobin Low

With Google expanding its same-day delivery service in a growing market, it’s hard to tell who’s offering the best deal.

If you’re not in a big city, you’re mostly out of luck, as major companies like eBay, Amazon, and Google are mostly piloting their same-day services in larger metropolitan areas. That’s because the model largely depends on there being a high volume of vendors in a customer’s vicinity that sell the desired merchandise.

Still, it’s an appealing promise: order by a certain time, and have your items delivered to your doorstep that same day.

With each of the services charging about the same rate -- Google Express charges $4.99 an order, Amazon Prime members pay $3.99 an order, and eBay asks for $5 an order -- it's still too early to tell who will pull ahead in the same day ordering scheme.

For now, maybe try linking your Twitter account to Amazon, and tweet/purchase away.

I feel a climate change comin' on

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 02:28

The new National Climate Assessment released on Tuesday says the climate is changing, but when it comes to changing climate change, Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, says President Obama has a tough audience.

There's the coal industry, and, some states -- like Texas.

"Attorney General Greg Abbot, perhaps the most likely person to be the next governor of Texas, routinely says, 'I wake up in the morning, I sue the federal government and then I go home,'" says Rabe, the director of the the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Rabe notes it's unlikely the administration will push for new legislation during President Obama's second term.

"It's not uncommon," he says, "for presidents, particularly when they move into their second term, to face growing difficulty working with Congress on major domestic legislation."

Apathy from the public is also a problem, says Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia's University's Center on Global Energy Policy -- and a past special assistant to the President and senior director for energy and climate change on the staff of the National Security Council.

"Admittedly climate change does not rate very high when you ask people about what their major concerns are," he says.

But, Bordoff says, public interest in climate change may be picking up. And he says while rules for new power plants already exist, the EPA is drafting regulations for existing plants, due in out in June.

The new rules should set a standard for many kinds of energy – not just coal.

Poll: Prestigious Colleges Won't Make You Happier In Life Or Work

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-06 02:03

A Gallup survey suggests the factors that should be guiding decisions on selecting a college are not selectivity or prestige, but cost of attendance, great teaching and deep learning — in that order.

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Not just another "chick with a ukulele"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 01:00

Before you start reading about Merrill Garbus and her latest album as tUnE-yArDs, why don't you take a second to dance a little:

Got that out of your system? Those infections beats and catchy melodies arrive via her latest album, entitled "Nikki Nack." Fans of Garbus will notice more of a pop music feel to this new release, and that's partly due to the singer's increasing familiarity and use of drum machines.

It's a new step for Garbus, who is primarily known for looping drum beats with a pedal and microphone as a sort of low-tech/high-tech one woman band. The singer/songwriter took a disciplined approach to this album, setting aside blocks of time to focus on improving both her abilities on analog and acoustic instruments:

"To me, there’s got to be a balance between computers and everything else. So for me that’s between computers and then actually having drumsticks in my hand and improving myself as a human player of musical instruments."

Garbus particularly enjoys when mistakes, be they human or computer, create quirky music. In using an iPad to record beats, the drum machine's difficulty in keeping up with her finger tips created an imperfect beat - one that she ended up using in the first track on the album.

This aspect of the flawed human-machine interaction is what interests Garbus most, and where she prefers to exist when making music with machines.

Collateralization is not a bad word

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-06 00:05

Oh my God! That financial product has a 'c' in front of it! It's toxic!

That seems to be the way regulators (and some journalists) are behaving when confronted with financial products that begin with the letter 'C.' And yes, it's true, the collateralized debt obligation and the credit default swap did play starring roles in the financial crisis, but that's no reason to brand every instrument that starts with a 'C' as a economic biohazard.

That's especially the case when it comes to anything starting with the word "collateralized."

Okay, I agree, it all looks pretty deadly: collateralized debt obligation; collateralized bond obligation; collateralized loan obligation; collateralized mortgage obligation. But securitizations like these aren't, by definition, a threat to the economy or the financial system.

Quite the reverse, in fact: they're essential.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself this question: How important is housing to the U.S. economy? Pretty important, right?

Certainly that’s what the President thinks. The economy is dependent primarily on consumer spending, and a large part of that consumer spending comes from people buying houses and filling them with stuff. Then there's all the construction activity, and the industries based on homebuilding. And then there are all the services associated with housing, too.

So housing is a big deal. And what's the engine of the housing market? It's debt; peoples' ability to borrow money in order to buy homes.  But if it wasn't for securitization, there wouldn't be any debt – or there'd be a lot less of it, anyway. The vast majority of the loans that are made to Americans to buy homes are packaged up by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, many of them in a big 'C' word: collateralized mortgage obligations.

CMOs have been around since the 1980s. And securitization has been around since Fannie Mae was started in 1938. So why is it that regulators and reporters are reacting with such revulsion when it comes to another kind of securitization, and another 'C' word: the collateralized loan obligation, or CLO?

Reading some of the reports about CLOs, you would be forgiven for thinking that, like the dreaded toxic assets otherwise known as CDOs, collateralized loan obligations are brimming with poisonous dreck that threatens to infect the entire financial system and bring our economy to its knees.

And it's true that some of the corporate loans in these CLOs will fail, just as some of the mortgages in Fannie and Freddie's portfolios will fail. But then, securitizations are not risk-free investments: CLOs depend on companies being able to make their interest payments, just as Fannie Mae's securitizations depend on me being able to make my mortgage payment.

It’s also true that these corporate loans are branded "junk," because they're not investment grade – in other words, they're rated below BBB, and its equivalent, by S&P and its peers. For the most part, though, these kinds of loans look pretty safe right now. Moody's says the rate of default on these loans is low, ending the first quarter at 1.4 percent, down from 2.2 percent the prior quarter and 3 percent in the first quarter a year ago. As for the CLOs themselves, while some did melt down during the financial crisis, they did so at a hugely-reduced rate in comparison.

CLOs provide the same kind of support for the economy that the securitizations run by Fannie and Freddie provide for the housing market. Where 'Fan and Fred' buy up mortgages taken out by Americans, CLOs buy up the debt of companies that might otherwise find it hard to get a bank loan. The results are a huge boon, both to those companies and to the economy.

When I covered the loan market at S&P back in the 90s, the "junk" companies that benefited from CLOs included Tricon, which is now YUM brands; Allied Waste, which was bought by Republic Services; and United Rentals. These companies employ large numbers of people and contribute significantly to economic growth. But without CLOs, they might not even exist today. Likewise, if Fannie and Freddie didn't buy up mortgages, fewer loans would be made, fewer houses bought and the economy would take a big hit.

I'm not saying that regulators (or reporters) should give CLOs a free pass. That's what happened to CDOs in the run-up to the financial crisis, and we all know what happened there. CLOs should be scrutinized and regulated just like every other securitization, to be sure they don't run amok or turn toxic on us.

But that starts with understanding exactly what they are. Regulators and reporters appear to be too quick to assume that just because CLO starts with the letter 'C,' it should be treated as toxic. And that's a poisonous attitude.

Can Student Journalists Ban 'Redskins' From Their School Paper?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:44

A Pennsylvania school board will decide this month whether students are allowed to ban "Redskins" from their paper. Student editors say it's a racist term and are ready to bring the case to court.

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Richmond, Va., Wrangling Over Future Of Historic Slave Trade Site

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:40

More than 300,000 African and African-American slaves were sold in Shockoe Bottom. Today, residents and city officials are debating how to preserve the area: Memorial or stadium and museum?

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Chemist Turns Software Developer After Son's Cancer Diagnosis

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 23:37

The parents of a young boy made a terrible discovery while looking through photographs they had taken of him as a baby. They noticed a white dot where a black pupil should have been.

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